Medical group offers polling data showing voters oppose loosening up eye surgery laws
The Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology issued findings of a recent poll conducted by the group which shows voters do not support changing the current laws governing eye surgeries.
The medical group commissioned a statewide survey of 500 likely voter respondents. The poll found that 79.6 percent of those polled opposed the performance of surgery by individuals not trained as medical doctors or surgeons.
The Alabama legislature is considering a bill this year to open up the range of procedures optometrists are allowed to perform as part of their practice. The legislation, generally, seeks to allow optometrists the ability to perform more invasive eye procedures like the eye surgeries conducted by ophthalmologists.
The distinction between ophthalmology and optometry can often be confused.
Ophthalmologists attend medical school followed by a one-year internship and a three-year residency. Their specialty usually centers around medical and surgical eye care. Ophthalmologists must have more than 17,000 hours training before they can independently treat and operate on patients, according to the Alabama Academy of Ophthalmologists.
Optometrists specialize in eye and vision care. Education requirements for optometrists include a college degree and four years in a professional program.
The Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology believes the distinction in education and training should control when regulating the performance of the more invasive eye surgeries.
“The medical community in Alabama is very concerned about allowing people who do not have a medical degree and the necessary surgical experience to operate on and around the eyes,” stated Stephen Kelly, M.D., president of the Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology. “The margin of error when using needles, scalpels or lasers on the eye is so small, that a mistake of just one millimeter could have devastating results for the patient. The patient safety and quality surgical outcomes would be threatened if surgery were allowed by anyone who is not a medical doctor with proper training.”
Optometrists are supporting the bill because they claim it will give greater access to eye surgery for Alabamians.
Opponents counter with data showing 91 percent of Alabamians are within 30 minutes or less of a highly-trained ophthalmologist who has the medical education, surgical training and clinical experience to safely perform these delicate surgeries.
They claim access data shows 99.7 percent of Alabamians can access an ophthalmologist in about the same time, if not faster, then they can get to a Walmart Supercenter.
“The issue of inadequate patient access is simply not accurate,” said Kelly. “Alabamians have great access to eye surgery from highly trained ophthalmologists. There is no need for patients to risk permanent eye damage or loss of vision for convenience sake. As medical providers, our top priority is patient safety, and SB 114 would unnecessarily place patients at risk.”
Other findings in the poll include 85.6% of respondents desire a licensed medical doctor to perform surgery on their eye or eyelid. Only 2.4 percent prioritized the convenience of access over training.
Of the respondents, 98.7 percent said they would be concerned about a family member having eye surgery performed by someone who is not a medical doctor.
The survey was conducted April 1 to 3 with a random sample of 500 Alabama registered voters likely to participate in the 2020 general election. The margin of error is +/- 4.4 percent.
Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News